REVIEW: Ruby by Francesca Lia Block and Carmen Staton
Dear Ms. Block and Ms. Staton,
As the Dear Author discussion of the definition of paranormal romance was taking place, I picked up your book, Ruby. Although published as mainstream fiction, Ruby contains strong paranormal and romantic elements. I wouldn’t quite classify it as paranormal romance, but I think it could appeal to those readers of the paranormal romance genre who would enjoy something with gritty, literary and whimsical touches.
Much of Ruby is narrated by the title character, a Midwestern young woman with a painful past and unusual abilities. There are also sections in third person which describe visions Ruby has, first of a boy and later of a man. The book begins with one of these visions, of a funeral for the boy’s father where the boy sees his widowed mother smiling at a man.
In the next section, Ruby tells of her family: herself, her mother, her sister Opal and their abusive, violent father. Ruby is only three years old when she decides to escape someday. Her father recognizes that he hasn’t subdued her soul and is enraged by that fact. While Ruby is a child and trapped, she escapes through her imagination, her mysterious visions or sudden knowledge of past events, her friendships with kind people and her ability to communicate with trees.
As a teenager, Ruby tries to find safety in a personal relationship, but it turns out badly and that finally prompts her to leave her home. She goes to California, where she gets a job as the nanny to the children of a film producer. While there, she sees a movie and identifies one of the actors, Orion Woolf (a character based loosely on Orlando Bloom) as the boy in her visions. She thinks about the fact that some woman will be lucky enough to snag Orion and decides that “It might as well be me.”
Ruby’s quest to attain this goal leads her to an English village and a job at a potion shop that belongs to Orion’s mother. Ruby doesn’t tell anyone that she plans to meet Orion and make the most of the opportunity, but when she finally does meet him, the reality is completely different from what she imagined, and Ruby is not sure if her magical abilities are strong enough to manifest what she wants, or if her past, which comes back to haunt her, will triumph in the end.
One of my favorite things about this book is your writing style. It’s vividly visual and has a simplicity that captures a kind of childlike innocence in Ruby’s soul. At the same time, the subject matter is oftentimes dark, mature and realistic, but the charm of the narration and the touches of magic and romance balance out the grit.
I liked the book very much but I felt that Ruby’s father was a bit too much of a bogeyman; I would have liked for him to have one or two redeeming qualities. Ruby’s mother and sister could have been developed further as well, but I understand why you made the choice not to do so. It works fairly well that Ruby’s family members are dark and flattened, like hand shadows cast on a screen, because the book is something of a modern fable, and the most important relationship in it is Ruby’s relationship with her past.
That is also the reason that I would not quite classify Ruby as a paranormal romance. Although Ruby is dreaming and thinking of Orion from the beginning,and although they get their happy ending, she doesn’t actually meet him or interact with him until halfway through the book. The main theme of the book is one of overcoming childhood abuse, and while the romance is important, Ruby’s processing of the events that took place in her youth is even more central.
Had I loved the character of Ruby, I might have given this book an even higher grade (as I did Ms. Block’s fabulous YA books Weetzie Bat and Witch Baby), but I didn’t completely click with Ruby herself. Still, there were a lot of lovely bits in this book, so for me it’s a B+.